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WASHINGTON, April 28 — President Joe Biden in his first address to Congress today will urge following up the fight against Covid-19 with a no less epic battle for a fairer United States, where the rich do more to help end inequality.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress on the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden will likely hail what yesterday he called “stunning” success in vaccinating Americans — a national effort that has dragged the country from coronavirus catastrophe to leader in global recovery.
But with solid approval ratings and a Democratic majority — albeit razor thin — in Congress, Biden feels he has momentum on his side to take on new challenges.
Speaking on primetime television, he will promote what he touts as a plan of massive government spending to get the United States not just back on its feet but striding forward in a new direction.
In the foreign policy segment of the speech, Biden “will talk about his commitment to reengaging with the world, taking America’s seat back in the world,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
At the centre of his domestic agenda will be the unveiling of the American Families Plan, an expected US$1.8 trillion (RM7.4 trillion) spending splurge that Psaki termed “a historic investment in education and childcare.”
The goal is giving “help to American families, making transformative investments to rescue and rebuild our economy, and fundamentally showing the government can deliver for people,” Psaki said.
The families plan alone — which Biden wants to pay for with tax hikes on the most wealthy — would represent a giant ask of Congress.
But this comes after Congress already approved a US$1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, injecting stimulus into almost every corner of the US economy, and is now debating a proposed US$2 trillion-plus American Jobs Plan aimed at rebuilding national infrastructure.
The speech will also run through the rest of a lengthy Democratic wish list, including police reform, pro-immigrant reforms and gun control — some of the most sensitive issues in US politics and ones where Biden insists he can deliver.
Biden, as he likes to say, wants to “go big.”
Tomorrow, his 100th day, Biden will follow the speech by launching what Psaki called a “Getting America Back on Track” tour, starting with trips to Georgia and Philadelphia.
Vice President Kamala Harris will be taking the message to Baltimore and Ohio.
Psaki said Biden had been working on the speech for “weeks” and was now down to the final edits.
The setting for Biden’s maiden address to Congress as president will reflect the crisis times in which he was elected last November, ending four chaotic years under Donald Trump.
Security has been at top level around the Capitol building since the January 6 riot when Trump supporters went on the rampage against what the Republican falsely claimed was a stolen election.
Ahead of his speech, Biden will be meeting staff who were trapped in the building during the terrifying incident, the White House said.
Although Covid-19 is on the back foot — vaccinated Americans were told yesterday they can now do most things outside without wearing a mask — the pandemic will loom heavily.
Instead of looking out onto a House chamber crammed with the usual 1,600 or so politicians and guests, Biden will be greeted by a select group of around 200.
According to Republican Senator John Thune, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi is allowing just 40 representatives from each of the two parties and 30 senators each.
Usually all nine members of the Supreme Court are in attendance, but this time only Chief Justice John Roberts will be there.
Of the cabinet, only the secretaries of defence and state will be in the room, meaning that the tradition of nominating a “designated survivor” — someone who could take over the country if the entire government died while inside the Capitol — is not necessary.
There “does not need to be a designated survivor because the cabinet will be watching from their offices or homes,” Psaki said.
Biden has brought an old-fashioned, sunny optimism to Washington, often choosing to ignore the noisy rancor that Trump deliberately stoked and appeared to relish.
But that doesn’t mean he has brought his opponents on side.
His big picture appeal for more government spending will likely get no applause from half the chamber and his expected plan to announce tax increases for America’s most wealthy will likely stir Republican fury.
“President Biden ran as a moderate, but I’m hard pressed to think of anything at all that he’s done so far that would indicate some degree of moderation,” senior Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said yesterday. — AFP
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